The Federal Trade Commission has finally taken Facebook to task. Now, because of previous violations of its users’ privacy, the social network’s privacy policies will be subject to scrutiny by third-party auditors every two years for the next 20 years. And from now on Facebook must obtain approval from its users before making any changes to the way their personal information is shared on the network.
The FTC’s allegations against Facebook were as follows:
- In December 2009, Facebook changed its website so certain information that users may have designated as private – such as their Friends List – was made public. They didn’t warn users that this change was coming, or get their approval in advance.
- Facebook represented that third-party apps that users’ installed would have access only to user information that they needed to operate. In fact, the apps could access nearly all of users’ personal data – data the apps didn’t need.
- Facebook told users they could restrict sharing of data to limited audiences – for example with “Friends Only.” In fact, selecting “Friends Only” did not prevent their information from being shared with third-party applications their friends used.
- Facebook had a “Verified Apps” program & claimed it certified the security of participating apps. It didn’t.
- Facebook promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did.
- Facebook claimed that when users deactivated or deleted their accounts, their photos and videos would be inaccessible. But Facebook allowed access to the content, even after users had deactivated or deleted their accounts.
- Facebook claimed that it complied with the U.S.- EU Safe Harbor Framework that governs data transfer between the U.S. and the European Union. It didn’t.
But it really doesn’t matter. The damage has been done. The data has already been taken from everyone and sold to everyone else. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Having to be honest from now on is hardly punishment; it’s more like a joke. Zuckerberg has already gotten what he wanted, 800 million times over. Nor would a monetary penalty have any effect. If Zuckerberg were shut down right now, or fined some inconceivable amount, he would still have more money than he could spend in several lifetimes. As with other giant industries and corporations, the only effective punishment, the only one that would make any real impression on the violator, is prison. Money, after all, takes all the sting out of any other sanction. Looks like the 1% wins again.